From The Charlotte Observer:
COLUMBIA When Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty of Columbia was killed in 1969 during a battle in South Vietnam’s A Shau Valley, U.S. soldiers could not recover his body immediately.
That allowed the North Vietnamese time to take his unsent letters – filled with his descriptions of the horror and fear of combat.
“If Dad calls, tell him I got too close to being dead but I’m O.K. I was real lucky. I’ll write again soon,” read one message that never reached his mother.
Now, 43 years after Flaherty was buried, his letters are coming home.
During a historic visit Monday to the now-reunited Vietnam, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta exchanged a diary taken from a slain North Vietnamese soldier by a Marine for four letters that Flaherty had written but never had the chance to send. It was the first exchange of war artifacts between the two countries, former enemies now looking to expand relations. The North Vietnamese had used Flaherty’s words as propaganda.
“When I read them, I started sobbing,” Flaherty’s aunt, Martha Gibbons of Irmo, S.C., said. “It almost put me on battlefield with him.”
Memories of the Vietnam War are fading for many Americans, and the war is the stuff of textbooks for others. But it is brought vividly alive in Sgt. Flaherty’s letters.
The letters also have reopened emotions about the war for Flaherty’s family. “It’s a senseless loss of life,” said Flaherty’s uncle, Kenneth Cannon, a Navy veteran who lives in Prosperity, S.C. “A lot of good lives were wasted in the war in Vietnam to serve no purpose. He didn’t deserve that.”
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